Monday, 29 September 2003
10:37 - From /. by way of Brian Bilbrey, I find news of Magnatune. Their slogan: "We're a record label. But we're not evil." Their logo even includes the phrase, "WE ARE NOT EVIL". After reading through some of the site, I'm inclined to believe them. They're also not shy about expressing their opinions. On their genre page, for example, I found the following quote. "New Age isn't dead, but we do wish Yanni would die."
I read through their information for musicians, and it sounds to me as though they're straight shooters. They're not over-promising, and this idea looks to me as though it could be the start of something big. They've nailed the single most important issue in music distribution, when they say they are...
If this idea catches on, which is by no means assured, it ultimately means the death of the record companies and commercial radio. I am reminded of Churchill's words concerning the British victory at El Alamein. "Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
There's not a lot on the site yet, although everything I listened to was of very good quality. Their servers have apparently been overloaded by the /. effect, so you'll find gaps and pauses in their streaming audio delivery. But the idea is sound, and it appears that their implementation of it is solid.
Just as there are a thousand competent actors for every megastar, there are thousands of competent musicians for every star with a big recording contract. And it will soon become clear to listeners that many of these unknown musicians are as good as or better than the "stars" promoted and hyped by the record labels. Instead of buying overpriced, overproduced CDs from the major labels, I plan to listen to these folks, and buy from the ones I like. All of the music is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, so you're free to download, listen to, share, and even modify the music. The music can be downloaded as MP3 or .WAV files, so you can produce a true CD-quality CD yourself.
The "buy" page has a drop-down list with a price range from $5 to $18 per album, with $8 the default. Magnatune accepts credit cards, but you might not want to use your credit card until they implement SSL security. Fortunately, they also accept PayPal.
Check it out.
10:56 - It appears that autumn has arrived here in Winston-Salem. I checked the thermometer when I got up around 7:15 this morning, and it was only 45F (7C). After I finished writing the entry above, I told FrontPage to publish it and took the dogs outside. For the first time since last spring, I found myself thinking that I should have worn a jacket. It was definitely cool, and there was a slight breeze. When I got back in I checked the indoor/outdoor thermometer in the kitchen, which read 53F (12C). With the breeze, it was chilly enough to be uncomfortable. I hadn't made a pot of coffee in a long time, but it seemed an appropriate time for one, so I fired up the coffee maker and made a pot of unleaded Franjelica. If the house doesn't warm up today, we may have to run the furnace tonight.
13:39 - I find myself faced with a situation. Barbara's sister and brother-in-law have just bought their first home computer and signed up to have Roadrunner installed. They're normal people, not computer experts, and now I have to figure out what to do to keep them protected against viruses and worms. I have no idea what computer they bought, except that it's from one of the mass-market sellers like Best Buy. They have the machine but haven't unboxed it. The Roadrunner installer guy is coming on Saturday. Barbara told Frances we'd come over Saturday afternoon and get everything set up and working for them.
I'll download and install Grisoft's AVG antivirus scanner for them, and set it up to update itself every night and run a full scan automatically. That takes care of the virus issue, but it doesn't help against port scanners and so on. I told Barbara to tell them that they need a cable-modem hardware router, but I've never used one and so am not sure which to recommend. I know that numerous companies make them, and I've seen them on the shelf at Best Buy. The question is, does it matter which I tell them to buy? My inclination is to tell them to head for Best Buy and buy whatever cable-modem router is least expensive, whether it be D-Link, LinkSys, Microsoft, or whatever. Is that reasonable, or are there real differences among these products?
They also have one of those hydra devices--printer, scanner, fax--that they want to hook up to a phone line, so I guess I'd better take along a box of UTP, some jacks, and so on, just in case.
15:22 - I've posted some links to some pretty horrifying articles before, but this article is the most horrifying I have ever seen. The actions apparently being taken by the FBI are not merely unconstitutional. They shatter the Bill of Rights, possibly beyond repair The Patriot Act itself is unconstitutional, of course, as are such other recent laws as the DMCA. But the FBI goes much further than even the abominable Patriot Act intended by attempting to gain access to the work product of journalist under Patriot Act provisions intended for an entirely different purpose. The FBI is acting Gestapo-like, literally. Someone has to stop these people.
Tuesday, 30 September 2003
11:30 - Email is getting ridiculous. I've been tracking spam for a few months now. Each morning, when I first retrieve my email from overnight, I record the total number of messages, the number of spams caught by SpamAssassin, and the number of spams that slipped through. For the month of September, I received 8,535 total messages overnight. Of those, 4,457 were spam, or 52.2%. Of the spams, SpamAssassin caught 4,330, or 97.2%.
What's disturbing is that the spam percentage has increased dramatically just over the last month. For the first five days of the month, I received 1,292 total overnight messages. Of those, 533 were spam, or 41.3%. SpamAssassin caught 519, or 97.4%. For the last five days of the month, I received 1,516 total messages, of which 1,011 or 66.7% were spam. Of those, SpamAssassin caught 972, or 96.1%.
Interestingly, Mozilla Mail flagged nearly all of the spams that SpamAssassin failed to catch. After having watched Mozilla Mail catch spams for a couple of months now, I've decided that it's almost completely reliable. It catches nearly all the real spams that make it through SpamAssassin, and it almost never flags a real message as spam. So I've decided to use a two-tiered approach, letting SpamAssassin filter the bulk of the spam and Mozilla Mail catch whatever gets by the SpamAssassin filters.
I have to do something, or my primary thompson at ttgnet dot com email address will become useless. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's been in use ever since I registered the domain eight years or so ago. It's been publicly posted in numerous locations, including on this web site. But the spam burden on that account is simply outrageous. I tracked it for the last week. It received at total of 1930 overnight messages, of which 1,409 or 73.0% were spam. SpamAssassin caught 1,361 or 96.6% of the spams, but that still left me with six or seven spams a day to deal with manually.
And some of those spams are pretty obnoxious. It seems that fraudulent spams are on the increase. Here's one Barbara forwarded me the other day:
Obviously, they are at the least hoping that upset people will verify their email addresses by contacting them to deny that they've approved a $48.74 weekly charge to their credit cards. It wouldn't surprise me if they went further and tried to get people to give them their credit card numbers by telling them they needed them to reverse the charges.
And then there's the one I got yesterday. It's a very professionally-done fraud. It appears to come from email@example.com and consists of an HTML message body that's one big form.
There are places to enter your personal information, including:
But that's not all they want, not by a long shot. There are also fields on the form for:
I'm surprised they forgot to ask for blood type. Anyone stupid enough to provide this information probably deserves whatever happens. But what flabbergasts me is that these scammers actually ask for all of this information in the expectation that there are indeed people stupid enough to provide it. And I'm sure their expectations will prove correct.
12:15 - Its interesting how people operate in different modes. In astronomer mode, I'd ordered some magnets to counterweight our scope. They're called bucking magnets. They're about 4 inches (100mm) in diameter, 3/4-inch (19mm thick), and weigh about 19.5 ounces (550 g) each. The UPS guy showed up with them yesterday afternoon. I was sitting in the den talking to Brian Bilbrey in computer-guy mode when they arrived. Barbara brought in the box and handed it to me.
I'd forgotten about ordering the magnets, but was expecting something from Plextor. When I saw it was from Parts Express, I remembered that I'd ordered magnets. As I sat there talking to Brian, I opened the box and unpacked a stack of six magnets, immediately switching from computer-guy mode to astronomer mode. The magnets are strong enough that they're very hard to separate, even by sliding one away from the stack. After I checked that the six magnets I'd ordered had indeed shipped, I put the box on the floor near my feet.
Had I remained in computer-guy mode, I probably would have realized that it's not a good idea to have any magnet near a CRT, and a really bad idea to have enough magnetic force to lift a major appliance sitting 18 inches from a CRT. After I finished speaking with Brian, I moved the mouse to unblank the CRT. It should have come as no surprise that the display was completely borked. I quickly moved the stack of magnet farther away, shut down the monitor, and restarted it. It's possible to magnet-burn a CRT such that mere degaussing won't fix it, and I was worried that I might have done that. When the CRT came up, it was still skewed and had muddy colors. I ran the manual degauss a couple times, and it was fine. Fortunately.
This morning, I decided to move the magnets somewhere safer, so I brought them into my office, carefully keeping them away from monitors. I found a nice empty place on the floor under my shelves and was about to put them there when I realized that they'd be a foot away from a stack of hard drives. Not a good idea. I carried them into my workroom, and realized that that wasn't really a good place to put them either. There are so many computers and electronic components around here that there really isn't a good place. I ended up leaving them on the counter in the bathroom.
I'll take them down to the basement later, where they shouldn't be able to damage anything. I'm kind of wondering about my walk through the house with them. I have this image in my mind of things dropping dead as I walked past with my stack of magnets--my backup tapes, spare hard drives, and so on.
Wednesday, 1 October 2003
11:45 - The Do-Not-Call list takes effect today, kind of. The marketing industry and a couple of federal judges have done their best to kill it, and what's left is a confusing situation with conflicting rulings, an overnight change from the FTC to the FCC as the enforcement authority, and some telemarketing companies not having access to the DNC list.
If anything, this confusion might work in our favor. If I ran a telemarketing company, I think I'd cease operations until things are cleared up. After all, each call I make could cost me an $11,000 FTC fine (or is it a $120,000 FCC fine?) The situation is fraught with peril for telemarketers, which is just fine with me.
I hope the eventual solution will include removing the exceptions from the original rules. What's really blocking things now is the First Amendment issue raised by the second federal judge who ruled on the program. He said it violated First Amendment protections by exempting non-profits. The majority of the people who signed up for the DNC list, of course, don't want nuisance calls from non-profits (or pollsters or politicians) any more than they want nuisance calls from for-profit companies. The best solution would be to eliminate the exceptions and to allow people to make their own exceptions. If I want to receive calls from non-profits, for example, there should be provision on the list for me to allow that exception. But I should also be free to forbid all marketing calls if I wish. That much should be obvious to our legislators and bureaucrats, but apparently it's not.
I am perfectly free to post a "No Solicitors" sign in my front yard, and I can prosecute violators for trespassing. The same should be true of my telephone line. I pay for it, and it should be up to me to forbid nuisance calls being made to it.
UPS showed up yesterday with a box from Plextor. I'd been eagerly awaiting a chance to play with this box. It's a ConvertX Digital Video Converter that performs real-time MPEG-1/2/4 video capture from an analog source. Basically, you feed analog video from a VCR or DVD player in one end via standard video cables or an S-VHS cable and out the other end comes a compressed digital video stream via USB 2.0. The box comes with a capture/authoring/mastering application that supports burning to CDs and DVDs and a player application that allows you to watch the resulting discs on your computer.
I'll probably test the ConvertX with a bunch of our archived video tapes, some of which are many years old. I think we have all the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small episodes and movies on VHS tape, and I'm pretty sure we saved all of the Upstairs, Downstairs episodes, as well as I, Clavdivs. We recorded all of those ourselves, but we also have some commercially-recorded tapes, such as the full Blackadder series. I'll try converting some of those as well.
I don't know much about recording video to digital discs. Apparently, it's possible to record up to 63 minutes of reasonably good quality video on a VCD, and 120+ minutes to a writable DVD. Given that the source material is only VHS quality, I'm not sure if the higher data rate and correspondingly higher quality of DVD will make any difference. If not, I'll just record one-hour programs to CDs and movies to DVD. If so, I'll record two one-hour programs to each DVD. I'm also unsure of what, if anything, I can do to improve the video quality during recording to eliminate analog drop-outs and so on. Finally, I assume that the commercial tapes like the Blackadder series use MacroVision or some other sort of copy protection to prevent copying. I'll look into that as well.
If this works, I'll probably use it to convert all our tape archives to digital discs. Of course, Barbara and I may be the only people among our readership who don't have a DVD player. We have DVD-ROM drives and DVD writers galore, but no DVD player. I'll probably test the discs on the computer DVD drives, but I may run out and grab an inexpensive DVD player to hook up to our den TV and audio system.
12:38 - OpenOffice.org 1.1 has been released. The OOo.org site is extremely busy, but there are numerous mirrors. I was pleased to see that pair.com, my former web-hosting provider, has a mirror for the Win32 versionr. I'm downloading OOo 1.1 for Windows as I write this. It's a 63 MB download and the servers are busy, so plan on it taking a while.
13:08 - Here's an interesting article. Apparently, libertarians are planning to invade New Hampshire. The Free State Project members voted on which state to congregate in, and New Hampshire came out on top. I'm not surprised. I'd reached the same conclusion long ago, and Barbara and I seriously considered moving there about three years ago. We decided not to, primarily because Internet access there was abysmal. But you have to like a state whose motto is Live Free or Die.
Apparently, 5,000 members of the project have already committed to moving to New Hampshire, and they hope to have 20,000 within a couple of years. That number may not seem large, but even 5,000 activists in a state with the population of New Hampshire can do some serious moving and shaking. I'm hoping they get this project off the ground and eventually secede from the United States. If so, I suspect Barbara and I would move there and apply for New Hampshire citizenship sooner rather than later.
And this from Rob Megarrity:
Thanks for the kind words. Actually, I'd not heard them referred to as "bucking magnets" before I found that source.
16:21 - I've had a chance to play a bit with the new release of OOo. It looks in most respects like a relatively minor upgrade, mostly bug fixes and a few feature enhancements. For example, OOo Writer now supports saving to PDF and DocBook formats. I tried saving to PDF and it appears to work fine, at least for the relatively uncomplicated document I tested.
One big change that surprised me coming as it did in a point release was the return to a monolithic executable. When I installed the new version, I told the installer to update my current version rather than installing in a new directory. After the install completed, I clicked on the OOo Writer icon on my desktop, and it couldn't find the program. In the last version, Writer was "ooowriter.exe". In this new version, it's back to "soffice.exe -writer".
The new version loads much more quickly than the previous one, either with or without the Quickstarter app resident. On my main desktop system with Quickstarter running, there's only a fraction of a second delay between double-clicking the OOo Writer icon and when the program comes up. With Quickstarter not resident, it takes about 1.5 to 2 seconds. That's a massive improvement over the previous version.
How good is the new version? I don't know yet, but it looks good upon superficial examination. I haven't played with the other modules at all, but the Writer module looks great. It won't be enough to destroy the MS Office monopoly, of course, but if the two products were going head-to-head on their merits, I'd guess that the free OOo Writer would take more than half the market share against MS Word priced as low as $20. If they were both free, I'd take Word in a heartbeat, but I'd have to think hard about spending any money at all for Word with OOo as a free competitor.
I tried opening a couple of my complex Word 2000 documents in OOo Writer. The conversion still isn't perfect for complex documents, but it's better than it was in the previous version.
OOo is certainly worth downloading and installing. If you do, though, take note of the fact that depending on your choices during setup, it may take over the file associations used by MS Office. Getting things back the way they were is, in the words of the OOo crew, "tedious", because you have to change back the associations manually.
9:58 - This from an exchange of private email this morning. It's a follow-on to several messages discussing royalty rates in fiction publishing:
Not at all. I appreciate that, other than bestselling authors, all authors are really suffering right now. Computer book publishers have cut advances to 1/2 or even 1/3 of what they were before the dot-com crash, and royalty rates are lower as well.
I think it's publishing that needs to be re-invented. Despite the stumbles, I have a great deal of faith in e-books as the eventual salvation for authors. I think that eventually publishers are going to be cut out of the pie entirely. Sony will start shipping an inexpensive BookMan e-book reader, and readers will purchase books directly from authors for delivery via the Internet. Authors will contract for editing and other services that publishers currently provide.
There's a company doing this right now for music. See <http://www.magnatune.com/>. It's a ways off for fiction publishing, but I think we'll get there. The hangup has been copy protection, which nearly all publishers and many authors insist upon for fear of having their work used without payment. Eventually, I hope they come to realize that copy protection hurts everyone--the publishers and authors as well as the readers.
When I publish my first e-book, it's going to be entirely unprotected. If 90% of the copies circulating haven't been paid for, I don't care. The 10% that are paid for will be more money than I'd make under a traditional publishing arrangement, and the 90% are free advertising and future customers. Most people won't freeload if something is priced reasonably, as the Apple music download service is proving.
And this from David Thorarinsson:
Thanks. I will look at it, although my favored astronomy software, Cartes du Ciel, has a Linux version in the works.
As to my comments on Word, what I meant was that Microsoft Word still has a large advantage in features and usability over OOo. Although I still have a strong preference for open formats, if Word were freely available for anyone to use without payment most of my concerns about its proprietary formats would become moot. Of course, that would also eliminate most of the advantages Microsoft gains from the proprietary Word format.
10:30 - ESR has an interesting article up on NewsForge. It begins, "Sun Microsystems crossed the line from "troubled" to "doomed" yesterday." There are still a few people who think Sun can survive, if not necessarily flourish, but I find myself agreeing with the consensus that Sun won't be around much longer. There's going to be a mighty crash, which was pretty much foreordained. That's inevitable when costly, proprietary hardware and software goes up against OSS running on inexpensive commodity platforms.
And I'm still trying to figure out the implications of Red Hat dumping their standard Linux distribution in order to concentrate 100% of their efforts on their enterprise distributions. I'm not entirely sure what Fedora Linux is or will become. From Red Hat's description, it appears that they're trying to out-Debian Debian. But there are a lot of things that are unclear to me. Assuming I wait for the official release of Fedora Linux and install it, then what? According to Red Hat, there'll be a new release every four to six months. Will I be able to do a simple in-place global upgrade ala Debian or Gentoo? Will Novell/Ximian's Red Carpet support Fedora, or will Fedora itself have a similar mechanism in place?
10:14 - I see that Davis partisans are now accusing Schwarzenegger of sexual harassment. Apparently, Arnold has made "unwelcome advances" to as many as six women over the past 30 years. That's one every five years on average. None of them ever filed charges. None of them reported the incidents to their employers. None of them, as far as is known, mentioned the incidents to anyone else. Now, purely by coincidence, they have decided to express their outrage.
This whole idea of sexual harassment is a politically-correct crock anyway. It is unreasonable to treat any verbal exchange, no matter how sexually suggestive, as anything other than free speech. Men are Constitutionally guaranteed the right to proposition a woman, let alone speak crudely to each other in the presence of women. If a woman doesn't like it, she can deal with it or ignore it.
What the politically correct and radical feminists call "sexual harassment" is in fact normal behavior. Normal men do it, or did until the PC crowd and radical feminists somehow convinced judges and legislators to impose severe penalties on normal behavior. Normal women know how to deal with it. Most women have a good idea of how to deal with unwelcome advances by the time they're in junior high school. Normal men and normal women understand that men propose and women decide. That is how it has always been and how it will always be. It's biological.
Schwarzenegger is accused of, gasp, touching women's breasts and buttocks at what are described as raucous parties. Now, that is a step beyond simply propositioning a woman, certainly. But no woman ever died from having her breasts or buttocks touched, and all of the adult women I know are perfectly capable of putting a stop to such behavior, assuming that it is in fact unwelcome, with a sharp retort or even a dirty look. To equate such actions to rape, as the PC crowd and radical feminists do, is nothing short of outrageous.
I have known a couple of women who were unlucky enough to have been raped. They were grabbed, punched in the face, thrown to the ground, had their clothes ripped off them, and were sexually penetrated by their attackers. If that happened to a woman I cared about and if our so-called justice system failed her, I'd track down the SOB and personally see to it that he never hurt another woman again. I don't know exactly what I'd do, but it would probably involve a blowtorch and a pair of dull tinsnips.
On the other hand, if a woman I cared about were "sexually harassed", I'd tell her to deal with it. Obviously, such harassment comes in many degrees, from a simple "how about it?" to implied or direct threats against a woman's job. In the former case, a mature woman should be able to deal with it without much problem. Most men know how to take no for an answer. If a particular man doesn't, well the woman can escalate things as far as necessary until he understands that she really isn't interested. If it comes down to extortion--"Have sex with me or I'll get you fired..."--well that's something she can deal with on a different level. In most cases, the man is an employee, and all she need do is speak to his supervisor or his supervisor's supervisor. If he's the owner of the company, she'd be best advised to find a new job.
Sitting here thinking about it, I'm wondering if I've ever "sexually harassed" a woman in the current sense of the phrase. I don't think I have. I'm sure I've told dirty jokes within the hearing of women, but never in the presence of any woman whom I had reason to believe would be offended by them. I did touch a woman's buttocks once without her permission. It was back in college and a bunch of us were out in the woods, climbing a rather steep slope. The girl ahead of me lost her footing and started to slide backward toward what was potentially a nasty fall. I was right behind and below her, so I gave her a hard shove in the ass to boost her back up. She thanked me, and that was the end of it. Nowadays, I'd probably just let her plummet over the edge into the quarry. Can't be too careful, you know.
This from Chris Christensen:
I do, don't I? Perhaps it's because Red Hat's main offices are just down the road from us, but I think the main reason is that I wanted to standardize on a winner. It seems to me that among the commercial distributions, only Red Hat and SuSe are likely to survive. As I get more experience with Linux, I don't doubt that I'll try Debian, Slackware, Gentoo, and perhaps a couple of others, but for now I'm content standardizing on Red Hat. The Fedora thing may change that, but I don't know enough yet to make a decision.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.